Saskatchewan society says stricter bail reform will perpetuate generational trauma

A release from the Elizabeth Fry Society of Saskatchewan claimed the recent count at Pine Grove Correctional Centre for Women was 254 when institutional capacity is 166. File / Global News

A Saskatchewan society is calling on the provincial government to reduce the number of Indigenous women returning to carceral institutions through the creation of supportive, culturally appropriate and affordable housing.

“We are talking about stricter bail conditions, but what we are actually doing is we’re perpetrating generational trauma.” said Nicole Obrigavitch, executive director of the Elizabeth Fry Society of Saskatchewan.

“These women who are incarcerated, where are their children?”

The call for action comes after Canada’s premiers wrapped up a three-day meeting in Winnipeg where they discussed stricter bail reforms for the country amongst other things.

Premiers argued the federal government isn’t doing enough about repeat criminal offenders, but defence lawyers said provinces can do more to address such issues themselves and that any changes to bail rules will have consequences for people facing trial.

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Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe said at the conference Monday that he was pleased the federal government is going to be considering tighter restrictions around bail reform.

“I would say that catch and release works well when you’re fishing. It doesn’t work so well when you’re dealing with serious offenders,” Moe said.

He also said that in Saskatchewan, some 1,300 to 1,500 “serious offenders” are out on bail and have violated the conditions of their release, a number he said was “simply too high.”

Obrigavitch noted that “serious offenders” are a different situation than those released from provincial institutions but added, “When we have to go into survival mode as humans, we end up doing some pretty crazy things and you might end up incarcerated because of it.

“When they have nowhere to go and they have absolutely no way to survive, they end up engaging in crime.”

The Elizabeth Fry Society of Saskatchewan said that if the province created safe, culturally appropriate and affordable housing for Indigenous women on bail, it would steer them away from reoffending.

“You can pretty much assume that a lot of the crimes that women are sitting in there are on poverty related,” Obrigavitch said.

Information from the society said 90 to 95 per cent of women in Saskatchewan’s carceral institutions are Indigenous women.

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It also claimed the recent count at Pine Grove Correctional Centre for Women was 254 when institutional capacity is 166.

“161 of these women are on remand,” Obrigavitch said. “We are talking about human rights here. You would not put two to three animals in a space this small.”

She added that Saskatoon Tribal Council’s Emergency Wellness Centre is also over capacity.

“When (offenders) get a small charge and get into the criminal justice system, finding supports, housing, wraparound supports… If you can catch somebody when they first start down that road it’s a lot different,” Obrigavitch said.

She said when people are released from small crimes with no supports or resources, they are much more likely to commit something serious.

“It is our provincial institutions that are feeding our federal institutions. We need to shift into diversion mode.”

Obrigavitch that other provinces like British Columbia are leaps ahead of Saskatchewan and the prairie provinces in terms of resources available for people with complex needs looking for addictions programming and affordable housing.

“They have started to develop and renovate properties,” Obrigavitch said.

She said an older hotel on Idylwyld Drive in Saskatoon might be a place to start in partnership with a non-profit.

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Global News has reached out to the Government of Saskatchewan to see if they had any comments about how they will be addressing this issue in the future.

The government did not say they were working on implementing new supports or resources, only referencing programs from the past.

“Social housing units are available in many communities and offer Saskatchewan people in need a safe and affordable place to live,” read the response from the province.

“Īkwēskīcik  iskwēwak, which means “turning their life around” in Cree, is the first pilot program under the Pathways and Partnerships approach to reduce the number of women returning to custody. The program will provide up to 18 months of intensive support to female offenders who are reincarcerated on minor offences.”

The program was launched in Saskatoon in 2022.

“Government of Saskatchewan is providing $1.2 million to STC to design and deliver this program,” stated the response.

There was no mention of additional programs planned for those that live outside Saskatoon.

— with files from Global News’ David Fraser and The Canadian Press

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